Police to shrink?

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The police’s Annual Performance Plan for FY2012/13 shows the South African Police Service is to shrink by some 9000 personnel. The plan also shows the police are going ahead with plans to buy 5798 new vehicles for about R1.1 billion, and spend R97 million buying weapons and ammunition.

The proposal will see the force being reduced from 197 930 members to 188 490 by March 2015. In response, the chairwoman of parliament’s police portfolio committee, Sindi Chikunga, has set up a meeting in June with the police’s top brass to discuss the issue, The Sunday Times said.

The cutbacks were triggered by a R2.1-billion reduction in the SAPS’s baseline allocations over the next three years, and are expected to see the replacement of only a small number of the 5000 policemen who either resign or die every year.

Gareth Newham, head of the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies says hiring more policemen will not reduce crime. “The UN recommends that countries have at least one police officer for every 400 civilians. We have one for about 265.” Speaking of the mass recruitment campaigns which began in 2002, Newham said: “The reduction in numbers is to be welcomed, because [the SAPS] can start focusing on the quality of candidates. “You should rather have fewer, better-trained, better-qualified and motivated policemen than simply a large number of people in uniform carrying firearms who are poorly trained,” Newham said.

David Bruce, an independent researcher in policing, crime and criminal justice, said the mass recruitments had been “a serious error”. “You now have thousands of people who perhaps shouldn’t be police officers, on the police payroll. It’s a kind of long-term burden on the police organisation and on the fiscus.”

During his budget speech in parliament this week, the police minister said the focus would be on quality recruits, rather than on simply boosting numbers. Police spokesman Colonel Vishnu Naidoo said the budget process for 2012/13 might lead to the “eventual reduced figures in line with the decline in budget allocations”. Naidoo was adamant “service delivery will not be affected”.

Parliament’s Chikunga disagreed, saying more staff were needed if sector policing was to be successfully implemented. She said she was not convinced by police assurances that staff cutbacks “won’t have an effect on service delivery”. Top management at national level should get the boot instead, she said: “They never go out of their offices; that’s the problem.” The proposed cuts are a reversal of Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s 2010 announcement to increase police numbers by 10% over three years.

The most recent plans have also taken the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) by surprise, with general secretary Nkosinathi Theledi saying his organisation would not support efforts to reduce staff. “We … will engage further with the department after studying” the annual performance plan, he said. “We need more cops than ever: they can’t be talking of a reduction.” Seasoned policemen said this week that staff cuts would worsen problems in the SAPS, including the shortage of detectives. It is not clear if this will be true.

The DA’s shadow minister of police, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said the planned staff reduction would “cripple” the force. In a statement she added that with “one of the highest crime rates in the world, it is patently clear that we need more police officers on our streets, not less. … This proposal will lead not only to a reduction in the number of SAPS staff, but will also end the hiring of specialist personnel. Specialist professionals must be headhunted and hired for the implementation of the bills the Police Portfolio Committee has been, and is currently, processing. These include the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill. As a result of the Treasury order, the head of the SAPS laboratories has now been informed that he may hire no new staff, and that he will now find it impossible to proceed with the implementation of these Bills, Kohler Barnard. “Without the ability to headhunt and hire those with the requisite qualifications, this Bill, for example, is dead in the water,” she warned.